I know some will start reading this article and think “blasphemous,” Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) has no place in the classroom (and for some, even the home). But I ask you to hear me out. I, myself, am a newbie to Dungeons and Dragons and started off skeptical of really enjoying it, let alone seeing any benefit to it outside of becoming more nerdy than I already am. (Or is it geeky – I still haven’t quite got the distinctions down.)
In an earlier blog, we discussed the potential kids have and how we need to Eureka-ize our education system. Building on that theme, one of things that I think our standardized testing approach to education gets us is a lack of creativity and resourcefulness. These skills abound in DnD; in fact, you won’t get very far without them.
For those who are unfamiliar with DnD, at heart, DnD is the ultimate “create your own adventure.” The Game Master or Dungeon Master creates a world and crafts an adventure on which the players will embark. This world will include fantastical creatures, magic and a diversity of races. Just because you have the option of doing magic does not mean its easy. Casting spells and rituals requires the player to roll her dice to achieve a certain result, or have the money to pay for the ingredients.
Every aspect of the game forces the player to use her imagination and think about the consequences. It also allows the player to explore more about herself and what she wants. In the end, isn’t this what we want students in the classroom to be doing?
The first step for each player involves selecting a race – Dwarf, Elf, Human, Dragonborn, etc. – and a class – thief, warrior, sorcerer, ranger, etc. All of the races have different strengths and weaknesses, just like each student in the classroom brings something different to the table. When creating your character, you also have to think about the back story. Where did the character come from? What motivates this character? And what will your character bring to the team?
This begins the process of getting the creative juices flowing and trying to put yourself in your character’s shoes. What better way to teach students about understanding different cultures and races than to have them create their own!
Instead of spitting out information and having students repeat it back to them, Game Masters set out a plethora of possibilities for the players to engage in and allow them to shape their own story within the confines of the world the Game Master has created. The Game Master may present opportunities, but it is up to the players to fully engage in the world and either take advantage of the opportunities or explore a completely different path.
In this way, Game Masters have to be nimble and adaptable. A Game Master may plan an entire story arc and on the first day, the players all decide to head a completely different direction. It is up to the Game Master to adapt the story and challenge the players in new and interesting ways. The Game Master also has to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the players to ensure that all players have an opportunity to engage.
Take the game we are currently playing as an example. Our Game Master has created a world that has physically been torn into pieces. One of the consequences of this historical rift is that characters cannot teleport, at least not predictably. Despite the potential adverse consequences, one of the players selected a character that can (under normal circumstances) teleport. Instead of telling the player “No,” our Game Master let him select the character, but created a scheme of different scenarios that could occur if he attempted to teleport by having the player roll a dice to determine his fate. Sometimes, he teleports without any issues, and sometimes things go terribly wrong.
Wouldn’t it be great if our teachers treated the classroom in the same way? I am not advocating that every classroom purchase DnD books and literally play the game (although that would be awesome). But if our teachers approached teaching as a Game Master – setting up scenarios and letting children explore the endless possibilities – I believe their inherent imagination and creativity would be brought out. It also helps to teach real life consequences; failure is a possibility and actions have consequences. Better to learn this in a classroom than after graduation. When they are still children, they can learn to overcome the adversities and build on their resourcefulness. And no matter what job you will have in the future, these are all skills that help lead to success.
So would it really be so bad if our teachers were Game Masters? I think it actually might be an improvement.